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Simplify command line tasks with ColorConsole

28 December 2011, Mike Williams

Most people could benefit from working at the Windows command prompt, if only occasionally. But it’s also an area that many PC users will do their best to avoid, because it’s just so uncomfortable to use: even apparently simple tasks like copying text from the command window to the clipboard turn out not to work exactly as you might expect.

You don’t have to live with these inconveniences, though. ColorConsole is a free, portable tool which extends the default Windows command line in a variety of useful ways, and could save you a considerable amount of time and hassle.

Take navigation, for instance. Changing to a deeply nested folder would normally involve you manually entering the full path. But here there’s a Chdir folder which allows you to select any folder, on any drive on your system; press [F2] and ColorConsole then automatically enters the appropriate commands for you.

A Commands menu means you can also access commonly-used commands at a click. And in theory this can be extended, so for example you can save the appropriate IP address for use with a command, without having to look it up each time. (We say “in theory” because the mechanism for making this happen is a little clumsy, and on our first attempt we seemed to corrupt the default menu entirely. If something similar happens to you, just close the program, delete ColorConsole.ini, and when you restart the initial settings will be restored.)

Just like the Windows command line - only better

Editing within a ColorConsole window now works just like any other application. If you want to copy and paste a command you entered earlier, for instance, just scroll back, select it with the mouse, right-click and choose Copy: it’s all very easy.

The program supports tabbed command line windows, too. So if you’re working in two or three folders during the same session, say, there’s no need to keep entering CD commands to change from one to the other. Just open as many tabs as you need, set each one to a different folder, then switch from one to the other at a click.

There’s also built-in printing support, complete with a Print Preview window (this is a beta feature, but it worked perfectly for us).

As the ColorConsole name suggests, it’s easy to change the window background and text colours, along with other visual settings such as the text style.

And most convenient of all, ColorConsole delivers all this functionality in a tiny (200KB) portable file, so it’s easy to run on any nearby PC. (And the author claims it’ll run on anything from Windows Me/ NT upwards, so compatibility probably isn’t going to be an issue.)

ColorConsole does also have a few issues and deficiencies. The mechanism for extending the Commands menu is awkward, for instance. The Chdir menu tree always indicates that a folder has subfolders, even when it doesn’t. Some tooltips are missing. And tab handling is basic (we’d expect to be able to close a tab by right-clicking, for instance, but all you get are cryptic “+20 (cx)” and “-20 (cx)” options).

Still, there’s nothing we can’t live with; the author issues updates regularly so we’d hope the program will continue to improve over time; and even right now, the pluses outweigh any problems by a considerable margin. And so if you’d like to simplify your command line work then we’d recommend you give ColorConsole a try.

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